If We Don’t Believe one of the “Hyper” Points, does that Mean We are not “Hyper”?
Many of those who critique “hyper-Calvinism” like to lump several ideas together, with the conclusion that if you hold one of these ideas, you most likely hold all the other ideas. And it doesn’t matter anyway, because they will stick the label “hyper” on you even if you believe in only one of the ideas.
I could reverse this by saying that there is a “hyper” package and that if a person fails to believe one of the points, then that person shouldn’t be called “hyper”. But then that raises the question: how many points can you not believe and still be “hyper”?
Of course the greater question is which points go together in your list of what defines “hyper”. There are some like Curt Daniel who say that the simple unwillingness to use the word “offer” (since it’s often associated with the idea that God desires in some way to save the non-elect) makes you a “hyper”. Others would say that the willingness to use the word “election” when you are talking about the gospel makes you “hyper”. And many think that even affirming effective definite atonement makes you “hyper”.
I propose that we don’t use the word “hyper” and simply specify the objections. “Strict Baptists” ( a specific denomination with its own magazine and organization in England) bases the duty of the non-elect on the ability of the non-elect. Since they know that the non-elect have no ability, they deny that the elect have any duty to believe the gospel.
I don’t need to call these people “hyper”. Rather, I will say that they have a false gospel which attempts to discover regeneration and ability before one is warranted to believe the gospel. The problem here is not mainly the power to believe the gospel. The problem is more about WHAT IS THE GOSPEL.
Of course nobody has the duty to believe that Christ died for him or her, or that Christ died for everybody. Christ did not die for everybody. And we can and should say that in the gospel. But without turning the gospel into a law, we can tell everybody the good news that Christ died for the elect alone.
Christ’s death for the elect alone is good news. It’s gospel to say that all for whom Christ died will be saved. It’s not gospel to tell people falsely that Christ died for them. And this is true, whether you are an Arminian saying that based on the idea that Christ died for everybody or whether you are saying it as a Strict Baptist who thinks we can know we are elect and regenerate before we believe the gospel.
So let’s not use the word “hyper”. Let’s talk about what the gospel is. And when Calvinists get the gospel wrong, for example by teaching that the elect are never under the wrath of God (eternal justification), then let’s specify the error instead of merely throwing out the label “hyper” which is nothing but an insult and a label and not an explanation.
Right now I want to quote from Matthew McMahon, a person who lumps different ideas together and makes them into a “hyper” package which he then critiques. I reference McMahon, not because he’s the worst of the guys who do this. (That would be Phil Johnson, a person who has clearly not repented of his Arminianism.) Indeed, McMahon can be very careful and seems to know the history of debates about “offers” etc.
Here’s the quotation: “What the Hyper-Calvinist is really saying is this: Hyper-Calvinism believes that knowledge of the extent of the atonement is a prerequisite for faith in the work of Christ. Again, the sinner must obtain and understand his subjective experience of the work of Christ for him personally. If he does not have this, then he is commanded to believe something that may not be true at all. The Hyper-Calvinist cannot stomach this.”
Now, I could object to the phrase “what he is really saying”. This means, he’s not saying it, but he should say it if he were consistent with other things he says, or at least I think so. I think we need to be careful when we do this, to realize what we are doing and to acknowledge what we are doing. But notice I say: we. We all do this. It’s our way of disagreeing. We point to one thing in common that we don’t believe, and then we say, if you believe one thing, then logically you have to believe this other thing, which we agree we don’t believe.
So let the “really saying” pass. Let the label “hyper” pass. The problem with the McMahon quotation is that he is lumping together two things and confusing them. One thing is knowledge of the extent of the atonement. Another thing is knowledge (because of some experience) that a person has that he is elect. These are TWO DIFFERENT THINGS.
It is one thing in the proclamation of the gospel to say that you need to know the extent to know the nature and intent of the atonement. I think this is true. I know many say that most of the Bible doesn’t talk about the extent, and then they go to Acts or to the Old Testament to argue from the “silence about election” they perceive there to argue for a gospel which must necessarily leave out election.
I won’t do that debate here, except to say a. that the argument often becomes an exercise in simply saying that the Bibe doesn’t talk about election. Period. And b. It becomes an argument that it honors Christ to talk about His Atonement before we ever talk about Election (or whose sins were imputed to Christ).
But again, I don’t want to talk about that now. There are 400 essays on this blog talking about that. In cynical but realist terms, it amounts to saying—let’s keep preaching the same Arminian gospel we claim to have been saved by, since we never repented of that, but only added some things to that. Or as I say it: let’s accomodate Arminians, beause I too am also an Arminian. (See John Piper for an explicit statement to that effect.)
But like I said, two paragraphs back, I don’t want to talk about that. I want to talk about Mcmahon’s confusion of two ideas. The extent of the atonement and the idea that “the sinner must obtain and understand his subjective experience of the work of Christ for him personally. ”
I don’t believe that second thing. Most of the people I know who believe that the gospel talks about the extent of the atonement don’t believe that second thing. We know you can’t have an experience of knowing you are elect before you believe the gospel. So we don’t believe that second thing.
But Mcmahon puts the two things together. Without argument, he simply assumes that if you talk about extent in the gospel, then you will
be one of those persons trying to find your election in some experience before you think you can believe the gospel.
By the way, while I don’t oppose the language of “duty” and “command”, that language is not necessarily how the Bible talks about the gospel. And more importantly, if you are elect being effectually called, and you understand your problem, and you begin to understand the gospel (election is good news, not bad news!), then “duty” is not really the most apt word–rather, you WANT TO believe the gospel, it’s your delight, it’s your only hope.
I want to wrap up. To review, McMahon is saying two things and confusing them.
One thing: “Hyper-Calvinism believes that knowledge of the extent of the atonement is a prerequisite for faith in the work of Christ.”
Second thing: “The sinner must obtain and understand his subjective
experience of the work of Christ for him personally. If he does not
have this, then he is commanded to believe something that may not be
true at all.”
Of course the second thing involves the “what is the gospel question”. The Strict Baptist is correct to object to telling a person who may not be elect that Christ died for them. But the Strict Baptist is wrong to think that the gospel tells anybody they are elect. The gospel says that the true Christ died for the elect alone. The gospel does not tell you to first found out if your are elect and it certainly will not tell you that you are elect before you believe it.
from Glad Tidings, by Abraham Booth
p182, “If by ‘an awakened sinner’ it is taught that no one is commanded to depend on Christ for pardon and peace unless possessed of a more holy disposition, he must necessarily be more solicitous to find evidence of that prerequisite existing in his own heart, than to understand and believe what the gospel says concerning Christ.”
p223, “The Scriptures will not permit our concluding that any pious affections are possessed by sinners before they receive the truth and believe in Christ. If we really love and revere God, it is because He first loved us, because there is forgiveness with him, because that love for the elect has been revealed in the glad tidings of reconciliation.”
p228–”For sensible sinners to think that they dare not and ought not to believe and embrace Christ, till they be more deeply humbled, and do more thoroughly repent of their sins, and be “more fit’ to receive him; this is but a gilded deceit and a trick of a false heart.”
p235–”The energy of the Holy Spirit applying the word of reconciliation to their hearts, the truth is believed and their enmity subdued, in the same instant. The gospel is the instrument whereby God brings the person forth in a new birth. We are said to be born of the Spirit, nowhere said to be born of the word, but “I have begotten you THROUGH the word.”
p238 “According to fatalism, the word of truth having no influence, is of no use in the work or regeneration, the salutary and important change being produced entirely without it…To imagine that a preparation of the mind, merely to receive the truth, is a change so great as to describe the expressions ‘born again’ or ‘born of the Spirit’ or ‘born of God’ is very unwarrantable…It is too hastily assumed that the mind is prepared to receive the light of spiritual knowledge before the truth have any influence on it.”
p247 “Now the question is: Do the Scriptures lead us to conclude that the mind and the conscience are brought into the new state by an immediate divine energy, without the medium of either the law or the gospel? I think not. It is written: by the law is the knowledge of sin. When the commandment came, sin revived and I died…
p249 “For an ‘awakened sinner’ to be persuaded to be persuaded that regeneration is effected without the instrumentality of divine truth, is to give an injurious direction to his prayers and expectations. He will pray for something under the notion of ‘regeneration’ in which the knowledge of Christ and a regard to His atonement have no concern…Neglecting the testimony of God concerning Jesus, he will be ready to look inside himself for some impulse to produce the important change.”.